SA will be a better place as a giant once walked here, writes Jonathan Jansen.
Pretoria - I will tell my children that you rose from humble beginnings and yet you had royal blood. My children will be told, therefore, that “you walked with kings yet kept that common touch”. They will learn that they changed your name in school but that they could not change your character.
They need to know your simple life in rural Eastern Cape did not constrain you as you worked hard to overcome disadvantage by staying in school and doing well there. On the other hand, they need to know that you could have chosen an easier path and provided leadership in your local community as the descendant of a Thembu chief. But you had bigger ideas – to serve all people throughout our country beyond the bonds of tribe.
I will tell my children that you were a freedom fighter first. They must know this because your legacy is being distorted by those who misrepresent you as the warm, loving, happy uncle who simply forgives and forgets.
My children will learn that you joined protests at Fort Hare College and that you received military training outside the country in preparation to fight.
They will learn passages off by heart from your statement from the dock in the 1964 Rivonia Trial and how you explained the need for violence in the form of sabotage of the institutions of the apartheid state.
My offspring will know that you were tough and principled and fearless.
I will tell my children that you took the long view. When most of us despaired, you could predict our freedom one day when you told the sentencing judge, “When (the ANC) triumphs” it will not change its fight against racialism, as you called it.
They will be told that you were prepared to sit for more than 27 years, patiently waiting for the day of triumph. My children will be surprised to learn that you started your LLB degree at Wits University, tried to complete it through an overseas university, but only achieved it through Unisa a few months before you were released from prison. The point they will take away is this: you never gave up on your studies.
I will tell my children that you were not a perfect man. In other words, you were like us.
They will learn about your three marriages and your own pain about not being able to be there for your children as a full-time dad. This, my children will be told, is because you were a father to all of us as your devotion to our freedom took you away from your own biological family.
I will tell my children that you saved this country from bitterness by your commitment to reconciliation.
Most of us talk about learning and living and loving across those barriers of race and ethnicity; you actually do it and you mean it.
I will tell them about some of my friends and aunts whom you met and how they recall in great detail not so much what you said but how you made them feel. And of course I will tell them how I sat right next to you for more than an hour on a graduation stage in Durban feeling so small and yet so safe, close to you.
I will tell them it will go well with South Africa because a giant once walked this earth and showed us that we have it within our hands and in our hearts to make this a better country.
*Professor Jonathan Jansen is the University of the Free State rector and vice-chancellor
** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers